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After years of trying to be likable, Katie Couric is letting that go

Katie Couric, shown here in 2016, reflects on the successes and setbacks she's experienced as a journalist in her new memoir, <em>Going There</em>.
Mike Windle
Getty Images
Katie Couric, shown here in 2016, reflects on the successes and setbacks she's experienced as a journalist in her new memoir, Going There.

As co-host of NBC's Today show from 1991 until 2006, Katie Couric was known for her relatability and mass appeal. But recently Couric's been working with a therapist on relinquishing the notion that she has to be likeable. She even bought a T-shirt that says, "I'm not for everyone."

In her new memoir, Going There, Couric reflects on her evolution as a journalist and the successes and setbacks she experienced during her 40 years in a male-dominated media industry. She recalls one instance, early in her career, when Ed Turner, CNN's second in command, told her that her breast size had contributed to her success.

"I was all of 26 years old and I was humiliated," Couric says. With her boss's support, Couric wrote Turner a letter, demanding an apology — which she later received.

But Couric also acknowledges times when she failed to speak up. She suspected that her long-time Today co-host Matt Lauer was having affairs with co-workers, but she says she didn't know the extent of his behavior. NBC fired Lauerin 2017, citing "inappropriate sexual behavior."

Looking back now, Couric says, "I don't know whether I was naïve or I just didn't want to believe it, but I think it was evident to me after hearing information come in that [Lauer] abused his power mightily and deserved to be fired."

My goal in life isn't to please people anymore. ... I think if you're just likable, you're not very interesting.

Couric acknowledges that the revelations in her memoir might contradict the "likable" reputation she spent so many years cultivating — and she's OK with that.

"My goal in life isn't to please people anymore," she says. "I think if you're likable, sometimes you are like milquetoast. You don't necessarily stand for anything. You don't rub people the wrong way because you [don't] have strong opinions, and honestly, I think if you're just likable, you're not very interesting."

Interview highlights

On her reaction to allegations about Matt Lauer

I was really surprised, and I know people have a hard time understanding that. They think, "Oh yes, everything's out in the open," but it really wasn't like that. I had a really wonderful, close working relationship with Matt. I would say we were friends. But ... after the show was over, we went our separate ways. We had very separate lives and I made a very conscious decision ... that I did not want to socialize with Matt. I just thought that was not a good idea. Not necessarily a recipe for disaster, but I just thought, you know what? I want to have a professional relationship with him. ...

<em>Going There</em> by Katie Couric
/ Little, Brown and Co.
Little, Brown and Co.
Going There by Katie Couric

There was one incident ... where there was a [memo] that was sent to the wrong person, and it was creepy. It was like, "Come to my office and I hope you're wearing that skirt that came off so easily." And I was like, "What the heck is going on?" And I remember saying to the person who, unfortunately, got that wrong message, "That's disgusting." ... At the time I thought, Oh, I'm so disappointed that he's cheating on his wife and I think I know who this was intended for, I'm not sure. And I just said, "That's gross."

Now, in hindsight, should I have approached him? Should I have approached the young woman, the intended recipient for that [memo]? Maybe.

On why she texted Lauer upon hearing the news

I was really confused. I had very little information at the time. I didn't know what the transgression had been. I didn't know how serious it was. ... It was so abrupt and so swift and intense. I wanted to make sure he was OK. And I think my human side just wanted to reach out to him. I had just seen him a couple of weeks prior, ironically. We would maybe have dinner once a year or something like that. And I had actually had dinner with him, and I don't know, I was clearly not very perceptive. I take real pride in my emotional intelligence, but I didn't have much EQ when it came to this.

On the lasting damage created by Lauer and NBC's culture of abuse

I think people can present themselves and show a side that they want to show at certain times, and I think what it made me wonder is why someone would be, first of all, so abusive, because some of the women I spoke with ... [have] been really traumatized by this and the damage is lasting. And I think what I've always wondered about is the callousness of these kinds of encounters and the recklessness and the dehumanizing aspect of this. And I think that is what really troubled me.

On regretting her decision not to level with her first husband, Jay Monahan, about his terminal colon cancer diagnosis

I wouldn't say [I sugarcoated] the situation, but I tried to make it seem that it wasn't as bad as it was and that we were going to fight this and we were going to figure this out. The doctors were going to come up with great therapeutic solutions. And we can make this work and, or we can we can beat this. ... I wish that we had talked about what might happen if all of that didn't work. I think I was so determined to keep him fighting and feeling hopeful and living a life that was as full and joyful as it could be in the time he had left that I wasn't completely honest with him, and I regret that to this day. ...

I think maybe there were a lot of things that would not have been left unsaid. I think maybe he would have done a video for [our daughters] Ellie and Carrie. ... I think he might have written them a letter.

On why she opted to undergo a colonoscopy on Today

I wanted to save some lives, and I had the potential to do that. I wanted to explain to people, demystify and destigmatize a procedure that can actually save your life. Colon cancer has a greater than 90 percent cure rate if it's detected early. ... For people in the viewing public or in the audience, I wanted to do for them what I couldn't do for Jay. I wanted to arm them with the information they needed, and that was really my only goal. I didn't think people were jonesing to see my colon, but I thought if they saw me go through it, they would say, "Oh, that wasn't that bad. I'm going to call my doctor because I'm 50 years old and I need to get one."

On being hired to the evening newscast at CBS in 2006, and getting criticized for everything from her appearance to the stories she covered

Even though they brought me there to really kind of rethink the evening news, and to retool it, and to get rid of sort of the anachronistic voice of God, they wanted something different. So I went there and tried to do that, but I don't think America was ready. ... And then, I think, internally, CBS was a very traditional network, and I think, internally, there were forces that weren't ready for what I had been hired to do.

Sam Briger and Seth Kelley produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Meghan Sullivan adapted it for the web.

Copyright 2021 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

Combine an intelligent interviewer with a roster of guests that, according to the Chicago Tribune, would be prized by any talk-show host, and you're bound to get an interesting conversation. Fresh Air interviews, though, are in a category by themselves, distinguished by the unique approach of host and executive producer Terry Gross. "A remarkable blend of empathy and warmth, genuine curiosity and sharp intelligence," says the San Francisco Chronicle.